This year’s BP Portrait Award has been won by Thomas Ganter for a painting depicting a homeless German man, Karel. The work, Man with a Plaid Blanket, came about after Ganter saw the man as he left the Stadel Museum in Frankfurt, where he had been looking at the gallery’s collection of work by Old Masters.

Ganter, 40, is an artist and illustrator from Frankfurt/Main and is the first German artist to win the prize. He said: “After being in the museum, I saw a homeless man and was stunned by a similarity: the clothes, the pose, and other details resembled what I just saw in various paintings. However, this time I was looking at a homeless person wrapped in a blanket…

“By portraying a homeless man in a manner reserved for nobles or saints, I tried to emphasise that everyone deserves respect and care. Human dignity shouldn’t be relative or dependent on socio-economic status.”

Karel attended five sittings for the portrait and the prize’s judges said they were “struck by the intensity of the sitter’s gaze and how every texture and surface was rendered in intricate detail”.

Ganter receives prize money of £30,000 and a commission worth £5,000. Second prize of £10,000 went to Bath-based teacher and artist Richard Twose for his portrait of Jean Woods, who was featured in Channel 4’s Fabulous Fashionistas documentary. Brooklyn-based artist David Jon Kassan won the third prize of £8,000 for a portrait of his mother.

Controversy and protests

This year marks the 25th year of BP’s sponsorship of the National Portrait Gallery’s portrait award, a relationship that continues to attract controversy and protests. Last Saturday, 25 activists took part in a performance/protest at the National Portrait Gallery, creating 25 live ‘portraits’ by smearing oil on their faces as they stood beside key paintings throughout the galleries.

One of the performers, Anna Johnson, said: “Any celebration of British art bearing BP’s logo is also endorsing that company’s business model which is wholly based on the destruction of a safe, liveable climate. The National Portrait Gallery is marketing BP as socially responsible when it is one of three main companies most responsible for climate change. It’s time for public arts institutions to stop being publicity agents for Big Oil.”

The organisation Art Not Oil is encouraging the National Portrait Gallery and other arts instititutions such as Tate and the British Museum to sever their sponsorship ties with BP.

John Sands of Art Not Oil said: “The public is rapidly coming to recognise that the BP and Shell sponsorship programmes are attempts to buy a better image by companies with huge negative impacts on human rights, the environment and our global climate. Cultural leaders should simply stop accepting dirty money from oil companies to promote fossil fuels.”

The BP Portrait Award exhibition opens to the public on Thursday 26 June and continues at the National Portrait Gallery, London until 21 September.